The woman was curled up near the fire, though Anala thought her more an animal, crouched like a toad, her face sheening like rubber in the light of the dying coals. Her all-black eyes shone with something more person than beast, but she could only ever be beast, Anala told herself as she shook her head. This creature was not like her; this was a troll.
“Please,” she whimpered, her voice wet with saliva. “What does yu want? I – I hasn’t broke curfew – not hidin’ nothin’, me, not stolen nothin’ – swear! Please…leave us lonely…”
The majihan stepped forward, studying her reaction with each step until he crouched down a stride apart. “Good…woman,” he said, his voice tempered and calm. “We are not wardens and would not dare enforce their laws. We do not wish to harm you.”
As if fear was a mask shed, the troll’s expression shifted. “Then get out!” She launched to her feet and grabbed a prong from the fireplace, jabbing him violently. He staggered back, fisting his abdomen. “Bootleggers! Smugglers! From th’Ashen Sea n’doubt, not in m’house!” Each word was as sharp as broken glass, spraying saliva from her slack lower lip. She was pushing them over the door onto the veranda when the wood split beneath her foot and she tried angrily to dislodge it.
“Please, miss,” said Anala, striding until the sharp prong dug into the divide of her ribcage. “We must speak.” The troll’s head rose and uncoiled like a turtle’s from its shell, her back nearly straight. Anala composed herself, pulling her hair from her chest, revealing a golden coat of arms embroidered on the pocket. It showed two crowned storks either side of a ‘P’ initial, both holding a scroll with the motto: REVETAE TE SŬRAIN.
The troll stared at it, rising and falling with Anala’s steady breath. Her beastly eyes widened suddenly and the prong fell from her hand.
“Paradam,” she said breathlessly, backing away.
“Percival Paradam,” said the majihan, approaching with new confidence. “This is my ward, Anala. I would go into detail of why we are here, but judging by your expression, you know exactly what I want.”